A Symbol Of Women's Struggles In Iran Scott Simon speaks with author Roya Hakakian about the widespread prayer vigils she's encouraging for Neda Agha Soltan, the woman whose death on the streets of Tehran was captured on a cell phone video camera. Hakakian also discusses the role of women in Iranian political movements.
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A Symbol Of Women's Struggles In Iran

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A Symbol Of Women's Struggles In Iran

A Symbol Of Women's Struggles In Iran

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The streets of Tehran are reportedly quiet to day after a hardline Iranian cleric threatened leading protesters with execution.

This week, Neda Agha Soltan, reportedly a bystander at the scene of one protest, became, of course, one of the first martyrs of the digital age, when the cell phone video of her dying streets winged around the world. In death, Neda has become a symbol of young Iranians who want change and women who want freedom.

Roya Hakakian has called for Americans to hold memorials for Neda during their religious services this weekend. She came to the United States from Iran in 1985. Her eloquent and moving memoir, "Journey from the Land of No," tells the story of her coming of age in the years surrounding the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

She joins us now from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. ROYA HAKAKIAN (Author): I'm delighted to be here.

SIMON: May I ask what went through you mind when you saw those first images?

Ms. HAKAKIAN: Well, my husband actually logged on and said, Let me show you an amazing YouTube clip that I just received. And as soon as he clicked on it, within two seconds I walked away. I said I wasn't going to watch it. And then we went to a dinner party and, you know, I might as well not have gone to that dinner party because I couldn't - I couldn't really participate in the dinner conversation. I couldn't really be a good guest. And we came back home and the first thing I did was to open my laptop and look at it.

And you know, I don't look at this situation as an Iranian problem. I don't think that it moves me so because I'm an Iranian. I think this is a moment for the world to embrace. This is the very same thing that Bach is to the rest of us or Beethoven is or Shakespeare is. I think there are historical moments that we all embrace as human beings. And I see the image of Neda falling and the blood streaming down her face as one of those human moments to be embraced by everybody universally.

SIMON: And not to over-analyze a human moment - is there significance in the fact that she is, in fact, a woman?

Ms. HAKAKIAN: Of course, for a variety of reasons. If anybody has been watching Iran for the past 30 years, he or she knows that this first indicator of how things are going in Iran is the woman's situation. For instance, you know, the Iranian Revolution happened in February of 1979, and by February 12th the Shah's regime had officially fallen. And by March women in Iran were protesting, were demonstrating on the streets of Tehran because Ayatollah Khamenei had within days of the revolution announced that he wanted to put in the mandatory veil into law. And of course Iranian women took to the streets to demonstrate against it.

And if you watch Iran, every time you are wondering whether things are going to go for the better or for the worst, you can look at how the thugs on the streets are treating women, whether they're forcing them to cover their head or whether they're lax with the scarves on the girls' heads. It's been a great indicator.

So I think Neda being a woman tells you the greater story of Iran in general and how the regime has been treating the most important social issue in Iran, which is the gender apartheid.

SIMON: Having lived through one, do you have the sense that what the world is seeing in Iran now has the makings of another revolution?

HAKAKIAN: Well, I'm glad you asked this because I'd like to say that predicting a revolution shouldn't become our favorite sport. We shouldn't sit around and say, oh, does it look or does it not look like a revolution. Of course it looks like 1978. People took the streets. They went to rooftops and shouted God is great. They chanted even some of the same slogans this time around. And now we even have martyrs. We even have the faces of people who have become victims of this. Now, is this going to be a revolution meaning that a month from now the regime will fall? I don't think so.

But what is certain to me is that by shooting at the crowds, this regime now has put itself in the position of the Shah in 1978 and therefore has lost every bit of moral ground and legitimacy, and of course, just the way Shah fell, they fall too. It's a matter of time.

SIMON: Roya Hakakian, her memoir of course is "Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran." Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HAKAKIAN: I was delighted.

SIMON: Iran's national poet, Simin Behbahani, has written a poem for the people of her country. Our senior producer, Davar Iran Ardalan, reached her in Tehran yesterday and asked her to recite it for us.

Ms. SIMIN BEHBAHANI (Poet): (Through translator) If the flames of anger arise any higher in this land, your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt. You have become a babbling loudmouth, your insolent ranting, something to joke about. The lies you have found, you have woven together. The rope you have crafted you will find around your neck. Pride has swollen your head, your face has grown blind. The elephant that falls will not rise.

Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind. The grim-faced rising cloud will grovel at the swamp's feet. Stop this screaming, mayhem, and bloodshed. Stop doing what makes God's creatures mourn with tears. My curses will not be upon you as in their fulfillment. My enemy's afflictions also cause me pain. You may wish to have me burned or decide to stone me, but in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.

SIMON: That's Simin Behbahani, Iran's national poet. To listen to her second poem, that's written for Neda, you can visit npr.org/soapbox.

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